Myanmar (Burmese) Culture

Burmese in Australia

Most of the Myanmar-born population in Australia has migrated to seek refuge from the political situation in their country. Initially, there were big waves of Burmese migration to Australia between 1947 and 1959 (following a rise in nationalism) and between 1965 and 1972 (following the military takeover). Most of the people to arrive from Myanmar during these times were Anglo-Burmese. Since the pro-democracy uprising of 1988, more people have fled the country due to ethnic tensions, security concerns and political uncertainty. These migrations were often assisted under the Migration Refugee Special Humanitarian Programme and brought a greater diversity in the ethnic makeup of Myanmar-born residents in Australia. Some Burmese women have also arrived under the provision of ‘Women at Risk’ visas.


Most commonly, the migrants that have arrived in Australia belong to an ethnic or religious minority group that faces persecution in Myanmar. Many may also be pro-democracy activists. This means the social demographic of Burmese migrants is very different to that in Myanmar.  For example, while the majority of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist, most Burmese who have settled in Australia are Christian (65%).  There are significant populations of Karen, Chin and Rohingya in Australia, as well as many Bamar and other ethnicities. Many Myanmar-born living in Australia may prefer to identify with their ethnic group rather than be called ‘Burmese’. Each ethnic group generally maintains its own dialects, beliefs and customs. While there may be some isolation between different groups in Australia due to political history, they generally do not interfere with one another.


Many of the migrants seeking asylum in Australia arrived after long stays in the refugee camps of neighbouring countries (often Thailand or Malaysia). Some may have had to live there indeterminately for 10 to 20 years. Furthermore, some Burmese may have spent time in jail as political prisoners. These experiences are likely to have had a lasting impact on them.  

Cultural Competence Program
Cultural Competence Program Logo

Join over 300 organisations already creating a better workplace

Find out more
Download this Cultural Profile

Too busy to read it right now?

You can download this cultural profile in an easy-to-read PDF format that can be printed out and accessed at any time.

Myanmar (Burma)
  • Population
    [July 2016 est.]
    Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS. This can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.
  • Language
    Burmese [Official]
    Shan (Tai)
    Karen languages (Karenic)
    Kachin (Jingpho)
    Chin languages (Kukish)
    There are over 100 languages and dialects spoken by minority groups.
  • Religion
    Buddhist (87.9%)
    Christian (6.2%)
    Muslim (4.3%)
    Animist (0.8%)
    Hindu (0.5%)
    Other (0.2%)
    None (0.1%)
    [2014 est.]
    Note: The religion estimate is based on the 2014 national census, including an estimate for the non-enumerated population of Rakhine State, which is assumed to mainly affiliate with the Islamic faith.
  • Ethnicity
    Burman (Bamar) (68%)
    Shan (9%)
    Karen (7%)
    Rakhine (4%)
    Chinese (3%)
    Indian (2%)
    Mon (2%)
    Other (5%)
    Note: there are over 135 indigenous ethnic groups in Burma
  • Australians with Burmese Ancestry
    49,204 [Census, 2016]
Burmese in Australia
  • Population
    [Census, 2016]
    This figure refers to the number of Australian residents that were born in Myanmar.
  • Median Age
    [Census, 2016]
  • Gender
    Male (50.5%)
    Female (49.5%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Religion
    Baptist Christianity (31.0%)
    Buddhism (25.0%)
    Catholic Christianity (14.2%)
    Islam (10.7%)
    Other Religion (14.1%)
    No Religion (2.9%)
    Not Stated (1.8%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Ancestry
    Burmese (42.9%)
    Chin (14.3%)
    Karen (13.7%)
    Chinese (6.4%)
    Other Ancestry (22.7%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Language Spoken at Home
    Burmese (40.5%)
    Karen (16.3%)
    English (12.3%)
    Chin Haka (9.9%)
    Other Languages (20.5%)
    Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 56.3% speak English fluently.
    [Census, 2016]
  • Diaspora
    Victoria (33.6%)
    Western Australia (26.7%)
    New South Wales (21.8%)
    Queensland (9.7%)
    Other (8.2%)
    [Census, 2016]
  • Arrival to Australia
    Prior to 2007 (36.3%)
    2007 - 2011 (29.9%)
    2012 - 2016 (31.3%)
    [Census, 2016]
Country Flag Country Myanmar